For the first time in nine years there is no Rosenbloom on the masthead of the LOS ANGELES press book. Steve is in New Orleans, along with four other ex-Ram executives, and his stepmother, Georgia, who owns the franchise, is now Georgia Frontiere. While she was honeymooning in Europe with hubby No. 7, dark clouds were forming over the Rams' new Anaheim Stadium complex.
Four of L.A.'s five Pro Bowl stars, Jack and Jim Young-blood, Dennis Harrah and Larry Brooks, didn't report to camp, although each has at least two years left on his contract. The fifth, Center Rich Saul, told Coach Ray Malavasi that the only way he could protect his 32-year-old legs was to play two quarters a game—pick any two.
The agents for the four holdouts told General Manager Don Klosterman that they would address their demands to Madame Ram when she returned from Europe. Klosterman's repeated answer to queries on the subject is "NFC," which stands for "no further comment." What would he say if the Rams played in the AFC?
"You've got to be firm in something like this," says Klosterman, who fined each of his Fearless Four $200 a day, starting on July 27, "or it will be a happening in every training camp."
The reason for the defections, plus the grumbling of stars such as Pat Thomas and Jack Reynolds, seems to be the $1.1 million package awarded top draft pick Johnnie Johnson, who has yet to beat out Jeff Delaney, a second-year player, in the battle for the retired Dave Elmendorf's strong safety spot. And while the feeling was that sooner or later the four holdouts would report—probably in time to get their timing down for the regular season—young people like Linebacker George Andrews are getting a lot of game experience.
If the clouds disperse, L.A., coming off its first-ever appearance in the Super Bowl, should repeat as NFC West champs. Malavasi is playing a pat hand; rookies have made little impact. Malavasi installed Pat Haden as the No. 1 quarterback despite Vince Ferragamo's late-season and Super Bowl heroics. "You don't take away a guy's job just because he gets hurt," the coach says. A bad start, though, could change that.
Running Back Wendell Tyler, who put some zip into the backfield, dislocated his hip in an automobile accident and won't suit up until October at the earliest; for now his job belongs to Elvis Peacock. In the off-season, Malavasi cleared out his starting running backs of 1978; Lawrence McCutcheon was shipped off to Denver, John Cappelletti to San Diego. And in the preseason L.A.'s most experienced wide receiver, Ron Jessie, was traded to Buffalo.
All this speaks well for L.A.'s future. Stockpiling draft choices is a good way to keep a franchise healthy, but it won't get the Rams any more points when the playoffs start in December.
Even without the four holdouts, the Rams will make the playoffs again. They can't miss; the computer has awarded them a schedule that includes only four games against teams with winning records in 1979.
Now please make the following roster changes on your NEW ORLEANS lineup: from L.A.—Steve Rosenbloom, G.M.; Harold Guiver, assistant G.M.; Dick Steinberg, vice-president for player personnel; Don Johnson, ticket manager; Joe Mendez, area scout. If the Saints could just move some of those Youngbloods east, as well as a Larry Brooks or a Pat Thomas, they'd be in business. It's defense that the Saints need, and it's defense that the Rams have. Until that balance is corrected, the division will line up in the same old pecking order.
Archie Manning and his boys can score at will, but the defense can blow it. The Saints squandered a 35-14 lead over Oakland last year, a 31-20 lead over Atlanta and a 12-point lead over Green Bay. That's right. Green Bay. But the Saints also were only a whisker away from a playoff spot, and that's enough to keep the fans buying tickets to the Superdome.
What a nice offense New Orleans has—Manning and those two horses in the the backfield, Chuck Muncie and Tony Galbreath; good receivers such as Henry Childs and Wes Chandler; and a very solid offensive line, led by one of the NFL's most underrated players, Center John Hill. With such horses as Left Guard Emanuel Zanders and Left Tackle J.T. Taylor doing quiet, unpublicized work. Manning had plenty of time to spot his receivers last year. The sack total dropped to 17, second lowest in the NFL, and the line picked up the nickname Archie's Bunker.
For years it was feared that Archie would turn into a basket case before he ever learned what the NFL was all about. He was the classic example of a young quarterback rushed into action too soon—before the club had time to draft a line to protect him.
No. 1 draft pick Stan Brock of Colorado was handed the right tackle spot, and he's still there. Also, Guy Benjamin was acquired from Miami late in the preseason and will serve as Manning's backup.
The Saints' defense is as shaky as ever, though. No. 2 draftee Dave Waymer, who was supposed to assume command at right corner, has been up and down. But Reggie Mathis has moved in for the retired Pat Hughes at weak-side linebacker, and if 6'6", 228-pound Joe Campbell, converted from defensive end, where he was a bust, ever gets the hang of strong-side linebacker, the Saints might be able to stop somebody.
A far-out rumor is that Eric Harris, the All-Canadian cornerback signed by the Chiefs this year, could be heading to New Orleans. The Saints made the best qualifying offer for Harris, but the Chiefs, who had originally drafted Harris, matched it and he was theirs. But in K.C. they say that Harris is unhappy that he's a Chief, not a Saint. He nursed a leg injury during the entire preseason. K.C, the word is, might get tired of waiting to see what he can do and, instead, trade him to New Orleans. Wouldn't that be an unexpected bonus?
A word to the people of SAN FRANCISCO. Be patient. The 49ers are moving in the right direction. They needed an offense, so in his first year Coach Bill Walsh created one, moving the 49ers from next to last to sixth in the league in total offense. San Francisco approached the 1980 draft almost stripped of choices, but made some quick deals and wound up with 11, most of which were right on the money.
Earl Cooper, the big, smooth, pass-catching fullback from Rice, has been so impressive that the 49ers were able to trade Wilbur Jackson to Washington for a pair of second-round draft choices. That's Frisco's version. The Redskins indicate they didn't give up more than a No. 3 next year. Whatever they received from the Redskins, it shows that the 49ers have added a depth factor they didn't have before.
Jim Miller shores up the 49ers' punting; Jim Stuckey is making a run at Jimmy Webb's defensive end spot; and Bobby Leopold, an eighth-round linebacker out of Notre Dame, is giving ex-Cowboy Hollywood Henderson a fight for a starting job, a new experience for this child of nature.
Walsh has tried to perform psychological magic with Henderson. First the praise route. "He will give us quality play.... He will give us that experience of being with a winner...." etc. Next came word from Henderson that if he was such a star, then he wanted his contract upgraded. The matter was calmed down, but then word came out that Hollywood was not taking his practice chores as seriously as some of the other 49ers. That's why it's nice to have a young draftee around to push him.
Second-year man Joe Montana had a good enough preseason to mount a challenge for Steve DeBerg's quarterback job, and James Owens could be the keynote wide receiver Walsh has been looking for. He certainly has the speed, finishing third in the NFC in kickoff returns last year. Paul Hofer is the kind of running back who plays to absolute exhaustion every week, and Randy Cross is a quality guard. It's a neat offense Walsh has fashioned for himself.
The 49ers' claims are modest—"We were in 10 of the 14 games we lost last year," Walsh says—and so are their aspirations: an 8-8 season. One lesson Walsh learned in 1979 is that you can't keep running people in and out of camp hoping that somehow a defense will materialize. So this year he trimmed his preseason roster to 70 players after one week, then gave everyone the long look. What he found should mean three or four more wins in 1980.
This was the ATLANTA operation in 1979: start the game with heavy ground fire, Mike Kenn and Dave Scott blowing people off the line. William Andrews and Lynn Cain running and blocking like wild men. The Falcons move smartly down the field. Then a holding penalty. Then an offsides. After that, a draw play for eight yards, another holding penalty, a sack, a turnover. Then the defense would try to hold the fort by falling back on the Grits Blitz that worked wonders in 1978. Sorry, not this time. The opponent would score a cheap touchdown, then another, and the hunt would be over.
Coach Leeman Bennett looked at the wreckage of the 6-10 season, which came on the heels of a playoff berth in 1978, and decided he needed defensive help from the draft. But he got trapped. Junior Miller, the big Nebraska tight end, was available when Atlanta's turn came in the first round, and Bennett had to take him. Now to everyone's embarrassment, Russ Mikeska, a second-year man and a former free agent, has held off Miller's challenge; Miller, though, might be awarded a start based on his pedigree.
Secondary help never came, but the Falcons got lucky with a couple of linebackers: Buddy Curry, the No. 2 pick, and Al Richardson, an eighth-round selection who has been only sensational. Many linebackers will get a chance to play in Bennett's new 3-4 defense, the Grits Blitz having been sent back to the pantry. Overall, the Falcons must achieve a better mesh before they can hope to challenge anybody.
LOS ANGELES 10-6
NEW ORLEANS 7-9
SAN FRANCISCO 5-11